This week the nation funds our priorities as we pay our annual tax bill. “Our budget is a moral document and it is either going to reflect the best of who we are or the worst”. This was so eloquently stated by the Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners. Tax expenditures thus speak to who we are as a people. They define the sacrifices and choices we are willing to make as we look to the future for our nation and citizens young and old alike. Each expenditure is by necessity a critical affirmation of meeting the nation’s needs.
With a continued waning economy, each dollar becomes even more significant. So many issues remain under funded or non-funded and therefore the decisions we make are even more critical. From education, healthcare, infrastructure to environmental stewardship we are forced to choose and prioritize our needs. Yet there remains a gorilla in the room that not only threatens our very survival, it steals from the lifeblood of every community in our nation, depriving them of precious resources and taking a toll in opportunity costs – the critical programs left wanting when funding is not available. I am speaking of the massive dollars spent on behalf of nuclear weapons programs. Once again this number will exceed $54 billion for the current fiscal year according to Stephen Schwartz, author of the Atomic Audit.
The weapons that these expenditures support threaten our very existence every moment of every day. Every citizen and every community feels the burden of these costs. From our nation’s poorest community—Buffalo County, South Dakota with its 1912 residents, 49.3 percent who live in poverty spending $138,172 of its limited dollars—to Los Angeles County spending over $1.7 billion, the costs are great and morally reprehensible.
Public education is but one example of lost opportunity. On a daily basis school districts across the land deal with ever shrinking resources. As a Californian I am terribly concerned for our state’s public financed education. California ranks 48 in the nation in per pupil spending. As an American, I know the cuts in public education across the land will have an everlasting effect on the future of our nation and the world.
Is this really what we want?
Today’s children are tomorrow’s scientists, teachers, professionals and leaders. I ask, is this our priority? What is the ripple effect of such short-sightedness? We all will suffer the consequences. This does not have to be the case. When will we speak up? We have an opportunity and responsibility to realize the possibilities before us.
We now have bipartisan elder statesmen who are working to globally eliminate all nuclear weapons stockpiles. We even have U.S. Air Force researchers and RAND corporation nuclear planners who suggest the U.S. could address its stated military concerns with roughly 300 nuclear weapons. Current global stockpiles contain 19,500 weapons with over 94 percent in the U.S. and Russian arsenals. Nuclear weapons programs are not an entitlement program. They have outlived their Cold War purpose and it is now time to work to reduce and ultimately eliminate these dangerous weapons and wasteful expenditures.
The choice is ours. National and international surveys have confirmed that a majority of U.S. and global citizens want to see nuclear weapons eliminated. Their continued existence encourages further spread of nuclear materials and weapons. Now is the time to redefine our priorities.
We the people have an opportunity and responsibility to make a difference. It is time for all of us to raise our collective voice and demand that the nuclear madness stop. We can no longer gamble on our future relying on luck to protect us from accidental or intentional nuclear strike. Nor can we afford to waste precious resources on any program that does not add value to our future let alone that which threatens our very existence. Every elected official needs to be questioned what they are doing specifically to work toward a nuclear free world. You can contact your congressional representative or senator by going to www.contactingthecongress.org. Let your voice be heard. For when the people lead, the leaders will follow.
Robert Dodge, M.D. is a board member of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles (www.psrla.org) where he is a Peace and Security Ambassador. He is also a board member of Beyond War (www.beyondwar.org) where he coordinates their Nuclear Weapons Abolition Team. He is co-chairman of Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions (www.c-p-r.net).